The 40-day period leading up to Easter has traditionally been celebrated as Lent, a time to fast and remember Jesus’ suffering and temptation in the desert. It is the fast before the great feast of Easter.
If you’re reading this after Ash Wednesday, no pressure! You can begin a Lenten fast at any time before Easter, although the later you start the less spiritually impactful your observance will be. I encourage you to start today, whenever that is!
According to a survey from LifeWay Research, a majority of Roman Catholics (61 percent) observe the fast, while only 20 percent of Protestants do so, along with 28 percent of self-described evangelicals. Those who attend church are more likely to observe Lent — 82 percent of regularly attending Catholics and 30 percent of regularly attending Protestants.
Here are 6 ideas for what to give up for Lent. (If you want more — and I mean a lot more — check out Stephen Smith’s Twitter tracker at OpenBible.info.)
6. Tasty treats.
On Stephen Smith’s tracker, chocolate cracks in at number 3, with 1,013 tweets on the subject. The more general “sweets” ranked number 6 (380 tweets), soda came in at number 10 (343 tweets), and “junk food” hit number 23 (149 tweets). Cookies took number 31 (109 tweets), Starbucks hit number 34 (102 tweets), and naturally ice cream hit 40 (80 tweets) and candy ranked 41 (78 tweets).
It seems generally most popular for people observing Lent to give up tasty treats, and that is indeed a good idea. Sweets are, in general, unhealthy, and Lent is a fast, after all. Christians believe that all food (unless sacrificed to idols) is licit, but one of the most concrete ways to make your spiritual discipline have a physical impact is by giving up treats. Indeed, for hundreds of years, Roman Catholics have given up meat for Lent — and falafel was actually invented by Coptic Christians who abided by this practice!
But sweets, soda, junk food, cookies, ice cream, and candy are also less meaningful than other things. The point of a fast is not to become healthy, but to come closer to God. Giving up these treats can be a holy discipline, but they can also become a temptation to pride. If you decide to give up chocolate, junk food, Starbucks, or cookies, make sure you don’t start morally judging those who don’t.
The second broad category on Stephen Smith’s tracker is alcohol. The drug itself took number 4 (861 tweets), with beer at 24 (135 tweets), wine at 38 (85 tweets), and liquor at 57 (58 tweets).
It makes sense to give up alcohol for Lent, since most forms of beer, wine, and liquor are surprisingly high calorie and the biblical book of Proverbs is chock-full of warnings against drunkenness. Even if you do not give up alcohol for Lent, it is a good idea to try to avoid getting drunk during this period of fasting.
Alcohol also comes with similar pitfalls to sweets, however. Be careful not to judge those who still drink alcohol during the season — and you’ll have to decide whether or not abstaining from alcohol means not participating in Communion.
4. Social Media.
A common trend among millennial Christians is giving up Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat for a period of time. These social media apps can detract from your quality of life and distract you from more important things in your life.
On Stephen Smith’s tracker, social networking was number 1 (1,183 tweets), Twitter came in number 2 (1,059 tweets), and Facebook hit 17 (218 tweets). Due to the fact that these are posts on Twitter, I take them with a grain of salt. Twitter is famous for sarcastic posts, and things like “giving up things,” “lent,” “religion,” and “catholicism” also ranked highly on the list.
That said, social media is a fitting thing to forego during Lent, so long as you can maintain your connections and relationships without it. Just make sure that if you do give up social media, you don’t end up wasting time on other Internet sites, because that can ruin the whole point. You can watch hilarious cat videos after Easter.
President Donald Trump clocked in at number 16 on Stephen Smith’s tracker, with 224 tweets. Also on the list were swearing at number 7 (356 tweets), work at number 22 (158 tweets), and “being petty” at number 63 (50 tweets).
Naturally, there were probably a few sarcastic tweets about giving up Trump as in keeping him from being president during Lent, but there is another explanation. Trump makes a large amount of people angry, and Lent is a season about focusing on God and training fallen human emotions to honor Him.
Consciously choosing not to worry about things that cause you anger, stress, or anxiety is actually a good idea for Lent. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you should avoid your responsibilities, but today’s world thrives on anger and outrage, and that’s neither healthy nor holy. God is in control, and especially during Lent, Christians should train themselves to put their hope in Him, and not get emotionally worked up about things in the world.
2. Antisocial activities.
In the world of the smart phone, there are literally thousands of games to keep individuals occupied in their spare time. But there are also other antisocial activities — ranging from benign things like online shopping (number 82 with 37 tweets) to sinful things like pornography and masturbation (number 65 with 49 tweets).
What sort of antisocial activity most takes up your time and separates you from God? Lent is a time to train energies on God and holiness. But it is also a time to develop friendships and relationships. Deriving your joy and entertainment from others can help you see God in them, in addition to opening your eyes from the distractions of personal pleasures.
As human beings in a constantly changing world, Christians value very few things quite as much as time. It is the most precious resource humans have, and it is perhaps the best thing to sacrifice to God for personal holiness.
But what does it mean to give time to God? This sacrifice can take many forms: praying more frequently, reading scripture or other Christian literature, and even diving into all kinds of Christian service to the less fortunate.
When Jesus laid out the two most important commandments in Luke 10:27, he told his followers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Loving God with your heart and soul can mean meditating on Him and praying to Him. Loving God with all your mind can mean delving into the depths of Christian thought. Loving your neighbor can mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, opening your home to the homeless, and serving the less fortunate.
Sacrificing time to God enables Christians to live as they ought to, to be transformed for the better in the image of God. This temporary sacrifice can yield long-lasting fruit, unlike the simpler disciplines of giving up sweets or alcohol or social media.
Whatever you decide to give up for Lent, I pray it brings you closer to God and gives you a better sense of humility. And I hope it helps you appreciate even more the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.